Youth ministry isn’t facing a discipleship crisis, the Church is facing a discipleship crisis. As youth workers, we have a huge role to play in this: how can our work now build lifelong disciples, passionate about passing that faith on to others? Ali Campbell kicks off our new blog series…
I want to share what I think are some discipleship essentials as we consider how we nurture, grow, encourage and equip young people in their life with God. My starting place is Jesus. Jesus called the first disciples, and it seems daft to try and think about discipleship and what it looks like without considering what Jesus did and what it might look like if we did the same stuff with our young people. So, I want to highlight three things:
Jesus called his disciples. He used a rabbinical phrase “follow me”, which for those fishermen, tax collectors and zealots, had a special significance. You had ‘made it’ as a Jewish boy if a rabbi came along and called you to follow him. Those Jesus called had not made the cut, they had gone off to do other things with their lives rather than be a student of a rabbi.
Jesus’ “follow me” was a call of inclusion, welcome, and acceptance. He was saying, “I want you to be part of what I am doing.” Those previously rejected, suddenly found themselves right at the heart of the most exciting story the world has ever known.
So, take a moment and think about your youth group. Think about your young people. Do you accept them? Do you see potential and passion? Do you see young people who will answer Jesus’ call? Here is a truth I have learnt - we have the youth group we have, not necessarily the one we want. These are your young people! What are your expectations of them? As leaders we have to make a decision to disciple those we have. This begins with acceptance, welcome and invitation. There is something huge to be part of, yet, even as Christian youth workers, we can be filling sessions, time and activities with cool stuff to do and never really consider inviting our young people to join us on the journey of being followers of Jesus.
Accept your young people today. If you have never invited them to consider Jesus’ invitation to follow him, what are you waiting for?
If we read the Apostles Creed, which many of us might say at church, you could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus’ life was solely about dying on the cross (the creed jumps from his birth to his death). We could teach our young people the truth of the statements in the creed and consider that we are ‘doing discipleship’ stuff. Yet, if this is all we do, we miss something fundamental that Jesus did.
Jesus had three years with his disciples, which the creed doesn’t mention. He told his disciples, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” The disciples watched Jesus, they joined in with what he was doing and they were sent out to do the same. This was practical ‘lived together’ discipleship. Maybe it doesn't make it in to the Apostles Creed because we aren’t simply to teach what Jesus did. We are to model what Jesus did as we follow his example.
I love Paul. He is so blunt and honest and challenging at times. There are two things that he says should always go together in our thinking about discipleship. He said, “I am the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and he also said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 11:1) I find that putting these two very different statements together, I come up with, “If I can do it, anyone can!”
Paul disciples others by imitating Christ. In the verse from 1 Corinthians 4 he is literally saying “copy me, mimic what I do.” This should raise some questions for us. Do we lead by example? Do our lives speak of Christ, not just our words? Do we share a journey with our young people or deliver sessions for them to attend? How are we living the life of Christ in front of our young people? How are we calling them on to follow our example? Do we even feel we can say that?
Our young people may not remember the things we have told them and taught them in the years to come, but they will remember who we are. Paul was not a perfect example, but he wanted his life, as he lived it out, to speak of Christ. Our words and actions need to sit comfortably together as we seek to be Jesus to our young people.
This is where following Jesus becomes real. Again, taking Jesus as our model, he says this in Matthew 20:28, “The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Paul, in again calling others to look to Jesus as their example, says this about Jesus in Philippians 2: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but rather, made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” These verses of Paul’s, a beautiful picture of Christ, are not written for us to simply think, “wow, isn’t Jesus amazing!” At the beginning of this passage, Paul writes, “Your attitude should be the same.” This servant attitude, servant heart, servant life is what we are called to as disciples.
We lead our young people in the way of Jesus by serving them. Even more than that, we call them to join in with us in serving others. For me, this is what enables us to make life long disciples. I love the picture of Jesus using the disciples to serve the people bread and fish when he feeds the five thousand. They become active agents in the transformation that takes place before the eyes of everyone. From their hands the people are served the miracle!
As our young people serve they learn about their place in the kingdom, the work that only they can do for Jesus. At the heart of disciple making is not re-producing ‘mini me’ young people, but seeing each young person who responds to the invitation, grow themselves to be an example and learn who they are as they serve others like Jesus.
Will you invite young people on this journey?
Will you be an example?
Will you serve them in to a place of discovering how they too can serve God with their lives?
This is making disciples.